The Constitution of the MLA states that its purpose is “to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects.” We therefore have an obligation, as scholars, to pursue political goals that address “our common interests as teachers,” such as advocating against the casualization of the academic workforce. We should not however subordinate scholarly institutions, be it our classrooms or the MLA, to partisan political goals to which any of us, individually, may be devoted: we should pursue such goals as members of the civic community, not as scholars in a professional association. Those who would impose a sectarian political platform on the MLA will harm it and weaken its ability to act on behalf of the profession. Those who misuse the classroom for advocacy invite censorship or risk censoring their students. Those who insist on boycotts will exclude their opponents from the association. Those who seek to punish or silence colleagues for their political positions violate the principle of free speech and undermine the moral and intellectual power of the academy.

This MLA Commons group welcomes civil conversation about scholarship and politics, censorship of alternative viewpoints, and the aspiration by boycott advocates to purge the scholarly community of institutions and individuals they deem undesirable.

The discussion in the group is open to all readers, but only logged-in MLA members may contribute. Please see also the discussion taking place in the group MLA Members for Justice in Palestine.

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Correction to the Record on the Delegate Assembly Vote

0 replies, 1 voice Last updated by  Russell A. Berman 5 years, 8 months ago
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    Russell A. Berman

    The recent Delegate Assembly meeting in Vancouver included a robust discussion on a set of issues, prompted by the clash of two different proposed resolutions–one supporting academic boycotts, one opposing them. The Delegate Assembly Organizing  Committee has wisely created space for discussion of these matters (an agreement that included a withdrawal of both resolutions).  Reasoned discussion is what the MLA should model to the public, and this is our chance.

    Unfortunately with regard to the open discussion period at the DA–which included several straw polls–the record has been misrepresented in a short article written by David Lloyd, one of the co-proposers of the resolution to boycott Israel (BDS). I’d like to correct the record here.

    Lloyd states: “By 66 to 0, they also endorsed the idea that the MLA should roundly condemn retaliation against scholars who speak out publicly on matters concerning Palestine and Israel.” And he repeats the same claim later describing the Delegate Assembly as “voting unanimously that the MLA should condemn retaliation against scholars who take a public stance on Palestine.” Neither version is accurate.

    The one straw poll that elicited a unanimous response asked delegates to agree or disagree with this statement: “As a delegate, I believe that the MLA should publically speak out against problems with faculty governance and public speech.” The item voted on makes no mention of Palestine or Israel or any other specific topic. Instead it asks whether the MLA should address infringements of faculty governance and public speech. The voting outcome therefore should not be taken as a statement of DA sentiment on the Middle East or even on Steven Salaita ( whose picture stands prominently above the printed version of Lloyd’s article).

    By the time the straw poll on faculty governance was taken, in fact, the discussion had moved away from the question of public speech and to issues of “faculty governance” in general. I made the argument that the MLA should work to get beyond understandings of faculty governance as meaning exclusively tenured and tenure-track faculty governance and instead to develop institutions that extend the franchise to all instructors. Parity in franchise would open the path to parity in job security and compensation. There appeared to be considerable support for that agenda in the Delegate Assembly, and I attribute the unanimous vote to that interpretation of the question. I would welcome the MLA moving in that direction.

    Finally, it is worth noting that two of the straw pools, including this unanimous one, would not have met the quorum requirements for the meeting, so if they had been genuine resolutions or motions, a quorum call would have blocked them. I will write on the voting patterns separately.

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